Technical Textiles: The Future of India’s Textiles Sector

11 Apr 2022

Do you know what is common to N-95 masks , sanitary napkins, bullet-proof jackets, wipes, lenses, parachutes, seat belts and shoelaces? These products are made of technical textiles and are primarily designed for performance or functional attributes rather than aesthetics. 

Globally, this is one of the fastest growing segments under the textiles sector and is responsible for the production of high-tech, high-performance fabrics that are designed not only to please the eye, but also to provide significant value addition in terms of utility and user applications. 

Termed as a ‘Sunrise’ industry, technical textiles in India are finding widespread applications in diverse industries, such as agriculture, defence, automobiles, construction and healthcare. They have unique advantages such as increase in agricultural output, better protection for defence and security forces, stronger and more durable transportation infrastructure and improvement in the hygiene and healthcare requirements of the general population. 

Recognizing the industry’s immense potential and its diverse uses across sectors, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) with the support and partnership of Ministry of Textiles, jointly organized an International Conference on Technical Textiles with the theme ‘Creating the Winning Leap in Technical Textiles’ on 12 March, 2022.

The conference brought together global industry leaders, policy makers and experts under one roof to deliberate over the future of the Indian technical textiles industry to discuss emerging technologies and trends and devise a robust roadmap to transform the industry into a global leader in the coming decade. 

The conference focused on 6 key sub-sectors – geo textiles, agro textiles, specialty fibres, protective textiles, sports textiles and medical textiles. It took a deep dive into industrial applications, research, innovation and development, export promotion, technology, sustainability, skill development, investment and growth opportunities in the industry. 

Speaking at the inaugural session, Hon’ble Minister of State of Textiles Smt. Darshana Vikram Jardosh, highlighted the importance of technical textiles for boosting the Indian economy and its potential to contribute to the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Mission on ‘Aatmanirbharta’, emphasizing that it was time to maximize investment, employment and women’s participation in the industry. 

Requesting inter-ministerial cooperation, she urged Government departments to mandate the use of technical textiles in key strategic sectors such as railways, health & hygiene, construction, agro and food processing to accelerate technical textile adoption. 

The Minister further added that various flagship missions and schemes of the Government, including Jal Jivan Mission, Mission of Integrated Development of Horticulture, National Health Mission and National Investment Pipeline were expected to create untapped opportunities in the domestic market.

Dr. V K Saraswat, Member, NITI Aayog urged the industry to partner with academic institutions to drive research, development, and innovation in technical textiles and to promote large-scale manufacturing in emerging areas such as drones, space technology and clean energy. 

Reiterating the importance of domestic R&D, Professor K Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor, Government of India stated that the National Technical Textiles Mission was an opportunity for the industry to be truly innovative and promote the development of indigenous technologies and products. He further added that the in the wake of climate change and increased focus on sustainability, there is a huge potential for developing cost-effective, eco-friendly solutions using technical textiles.

Shri UP Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Textiles cited a few major roadblocks to the industry’s expansion, including a lack of awareness among user industries, restricted size and scale of the sector, policy bottlenecks and the limited number of standards and regulations for technical textiles. 

He assured the industry of the Government’s continued support and commitment towards building a favourable ecosystem for technical textiles and urged the industry to partner with the Government to take the industry to new heights in the next decade. 

As India prepares to become a global leader in the technical textiles landscape, domestic R&D, environmental sustainability and technological innovation will be key drivers of industry competitiveness and growth. Further, changing consumer preferences, urbanization, rising income levels and industrialization are expected to create huge opportunities for the domestic technical textiles market. 

A vibrant technical textiles industry is expected to drive the Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make for the World’ vision and put India on the path to ‘Aatmanirbharta’ or ‘self-reliance’.  

Against this backdrop, the CII conference presented thought leaders and experts from the Government, industry and academia with an important platform to converge and devise strategies to pave the way for the Indian technical textiles industry.

Key takeaways from the conference:

India must devise strategies to capitalize on market opportunities presented by high-value sub sectors. Geo textiles, agro textiles, specialty fibres, protective textiles, sports textiles and medical textiles – all offer tremendous growth potential that must be leveraged to transform the domestic industry. 
Investing in R&D and innovation is imperative to drive indigenous production of technology, machinery and products. This would strengthen local supply chains and ensure India is self-reliant in the future.
Adoption of green technology and environmentally sustainable principles is the need of the hour, especially since textiles is the second-largest polluter in the world and accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Almost 90% of textile waste goes to landfills which is a serious environmental concern. Technical textiles can play a huge role in providing alternative, innovative and environment-friendly solutions.
Harmonizing technical textiles standards and regulatory legislations in line with global standards in every sub-sector is essential and critical if India wants to compete in the global marketplace. Domestic technical textiles standards must be continuously upgraded to keep pace with technological advancements. 
Domestic testing infrastructure is inadequate. There is an urgent need to establish more labs and testing facilities that are equipped with world-class infrastructure and manpower. Indian facilities should be at par with international certification authorities so that domestic certification or accreditation is recognized worldwide. 
Limited availability of key raw materials such as carbon, viscose rayon, nylon, glass and ceramic fibers is a major challenge for the industry. Importing raw materials is costly and exposes domestic manufacturers to global supply chain disruptions. Thus, hi-tech raw materials need to be manufactured domestically, in line with the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ vision. The Government should launch initiatives, such as the PLI scheme, to incentivize indigenous raw material production.
Capacity building, through skill training initiatives, is important to enhance the productivity of the workforce and to ensure high quality skill development in technical textiles. 
Partnering and collaborating with foreign governments and institutions will facilitate the transfer of world-class technical know-how and strengthen the knowledge base of the domestic technical textiles industry.